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Cashman Center bookings dwindle

Every time Debra Hansen hears of a plan to raze and replace Cashman Center, she hopes it doesn’t happen.

She has staged her annual Bridal Spectacular Expo at the downtown meeting and convention venue every year except one since 1991, and she doesn’t even comparison shop despite the proliferation of competitors in recent years.

“I don’t know why I would want to go anywhere else,” Hansen said.

Unfortunately for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which operates and subsidizes Cashman under a lease with the city, the number of people and groups sharing her devotion has been shrinking for years. During the authority’s fiscal year ended June 30, Cashman hosted 139 events, half the total from two years ago and one of the lowest in its 27-year existence, according to the authority’s annual report.

Part of the decline stemmed from the U.S. Bowling Congress Open Championships, which tied up Cashman for more than seven months and forced regulars to go elsewhere. The slumping economy also took its toll on the locals-oriented events that have been Cashman’s mainstay.

“Like every entity in Las Vegas, Cashman has felt the effects of recession,” said Terry Jicinsky, the authority’s senior vice president of operations.

At the same time, new meeting space has come on line, and locals casinos, such as South Point and The Orleans, have more aggressively pursued the smaller events market.

Calanit Atia, owner of event planner A to Z Events, said the added competition has pushed Cashman into the shadows.

“It’s a great place to have locals events,” she said. “But there is just too much high-end space for conventions or corporate meetings to go there.”

The Cashman complex covers 55 acres, most of it the minor-league baseball park used almost exclusively by the Las Vegas 51s, and 2,500 spaces of surface parking. The indoors includes 12 meeting rooms, 98,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 1,900-seat theater. Jicinsky expects that at least some of the clients that use the theater to migrate to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts when it opens next year.

Still, he added, “I think as we see the recession in the rearview mirror, we will get more and more events.”

A rate increase instituted early this year, ranging from 6.6 percent to 25 percent depending on the room and audience, helped raise fiscal 2010 revenues to $1.5 million. However, this marked only the third time in the past decade that annual revenue has run lower than $1.8 million, including the fiscal 2002 marred by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Even with higher prices, Cashman is still Hansen’s first choice.

“Many other places are not interested in small consumer shows, so they won’t book more than three months ahead if they have availability,” she said. “We need to book two years out.”

Casinos shun them and other locals shows because attendees will often just come and go, not stopping to eat, drink or gamble.

In 2009, she had to move the bridal expo to the World Market Center due to the bowling contest and had to swallow a tripling of the rent.

Besides being the right size for his quarterly Crossroads of the West Gun Show, Robert Templeton has gone to Cashman for five years because he doesn’t have to guarantee 300 to 400 room bookings to get the exhibit floor, as he said often happens with Strip properties.

During the bowling tournament, he shifted to the Tropicana.

“It was only half the size of what we wanted,” he said, for attendance that usually runs 6,000 to 8,000. “It was OK, but not as profitable for us as Cashman.”

Half of Cashman’s clients come from nonprofits, government agencies, unions or community groups, some of them entitled to 25 or 50 percent discounts from the listed rates. This has brought in events such as dance contests, the Harvest Festival Original Art & Craft Show and the All in Bully Bash bulldog show.

Cashman opened in 1983 as a place where Fremont Street properties could book group events. But Jicinsky said it became apparent that hotels wanted to keep the business in-house.

Later, it stayed active as an overflow site for meetings and conventions, but that need disappeared early in the decade as the Las Vegas Convention Center expanded.

Bookings plunged by more than half in 2004, to 217 from 479 in 2003, when the authority quit counting in-house meetings. As the economy boomed, events crested at 277 in 2008, but have since fallen by half again. In the past three years, Cashman has hosted only three events classified as conventions.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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